Augusta, GA -
For the area around two historic Augusta mills, the plan is to buy land.
If voters approve the next phase of the SPLOST, $5.2 million would be used to purchase property to help Georgia Regents University develop in the area.
“As you look at the redevelopment of an entire district, you can't plan for property you don't own,” says Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
But, some Augusta Commissioners don't see the benefit of getting into the land buying business.
“There's not commitment from Georgia Regents University that they have an interest in it. I think it's a good possibility we're throwing money out. That's not going to be too good,” says Commissioner Bill Lockett.
“I'm just trying to figure out who are the landowners we're talking about purchasing from,” says Commissioner and Mayoral candidate Alvin Mason.
We asked Commissioner Lockett if he believes the Mills District plan is an attempt by the Mayor and others to benefit certain property owners and developers at taxpayers’ expense.
"Well, they have the last four and a half years I've been on the Commission. You see it time after time after time, most certainly,” said Lockett.
Its true, property near the mills, like the Martha Lester School, is owned by top Augusta development firms, so we asked the Mayor if the mills project is designed to help connected companies or property owners.
“There is nothing that's going to benefit the wealthy. You hear that time and time again, I've heard that this is the Mayor's SPLOST," says Copenhaver, blaming those thoughts on "conspiracy theories".
The Mayor says he does not own any property in the Harrisburg area that would be bought with SPLOST dollars. “I would not receive any direct financial benefits whatsoever. People who are out there saying that is just completely ridiculous, and absolutely false,” says Copenhaver.
I asked the Mayor if he believes the Mills District is a SPLOST killer. He says not at all, he's upbeat on SPLOST passing next week, citing support from groups like the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Augusta Sports Council, the Downtown Development Authority, Sheriff Richard Roundtree, and the mayors of Blythe and Hephzibah, as evidence of widespread support.